Although global warming is usually reported in terms of average degrees per year, climatologists say that’s not how it’s actually experienced. (Black Press Media file photos)

Research shows climate change silencing spots once buzzing with bees

Bees have faced a series of threats for years, including habitat loss, parasites and pesticide use

Research measuring the effort of climate change on bees suggests they are only half as likely to be found in areas where they were once common.

“Things are just getting way too hot for them in a lot of places, too frequently in the year,” said Peter Soroye, a biologist at the University of Ottawa.

Bees are crucial to agriculture. The United Nations says about one-third of the world’s crops depend on pollinators.

Bees have faced a series of threats for years, including habitat loss, parasites and pesticide use. One 2011 study found that wild bumblebee species had declined by up to 96 per cent and their ranges had contracted by at least one-quarter.

Climate change is also a factor. Soroye and his colleagues, whose research was published Thursday in the journal Science, wanted to tease out its part in the bees’ decline.

Although global warming is usually reported in terms of average degrees per year, climatologists say that’s not how it’s actually experienced. What usually happens is a period of extreme weather.

That’s what hurts the bees, Soroye said.

“Temperatures getting a little hotter every year, most species can probably tolerate that,” he said. ”But when you get a week of 40-plus (Celsius) temperatures, this is something that’s really difficult for bumblebees to tolerate.”

Using almost a century’s worth of records and data on 66 bumblebee species from more than half a million locations, the researchers showed a clear correlation — separate from land use or pesticides — between bee population surveys and weather that exceeded their tolerance.

They found a powerful link between population decline and what the paper calls “climate chaos.”

ALSO READ: UBC study shows honey bees can help monitor pollution in cities

“Eureka moments don’t usually happen,” said co-author Jeremy Kerr, a University of Ottawa professor. ”Usually you see something in your data and you squint a little bit and then you say, ‘That’s strange.’ But this time, everything you could think of totally worked.”

The paper concludes that climate change in North America has resulted in a 50-50 chance that a meadow or a vacant lot that was loud with bees just a generation or two ago still has them. The paper also says their risk of extinction has increased.

Not all changes are losses. Soroye said some areas benefited from the warmer weather and increased their bee numbers.

But the overall trend was down, he said.

Kerr said correlating populations with weather data could be useful to help understand the declining numbers of many other species, especially birds for which long records are available.

“The premise is intended to be transferable. We didn’t build the premise for bumblebees. We built it for any kind of species.”

Not all animals are necessarily in decline from climate change. Butterflies, for example, might not be bothered by hot spells.

“They originated in tropical conditions and they may have greater capacity to tolerate hot weather,” Kerr said.

But the reason for any changes would remain the same — climate.

“These principles are applicable everywhere,” Soroye said. ”We have yet to test that, but that’s what we think.”

Kerr said the study has the added benefit of being immediately useful to beekeepers or wildlife managers.

“If we can manage our habitats to maintain things like microclimates, little habitat buffers like a hedgerow, it has the same effect as putting a shade tree in your backyard on a hot day,” he said. ”You can go sit in the shade and so can a bumblebee.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Climate changeNature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Axe throwing, road hockey among Salmon Arm food drive festivities

Fill the Pantry event wraps up on Monday, Feb. 17 with day of activities. 600lbs of food collected.

Shuswap artists come into focus for upcoming exhibit

Salmon Arm Art Gallery presents 20/20, an open community exhibition

RCMP report woman arrested after ramming police cruiser

Suspect wanted for crimes allegedly committed in Kelowna, Salmon Arm and 100 Mile House

Salvation Army’s Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser in Salmon Arm welcomes you

Make community connections while taking a walk and contributing to $35,000 goal

Letter: South Shuswap incorporation a foregone conclusion?

Writer overwhelmed with information at committee meeting

Protesters barricade Premier John Horgan’s home ahead of B.C. budget unveiling

Demonstrators from the Extinction Rebellion have blocked the Langford driveway

Ten poisoned eagles rushed to veterinary hospital in Nanaimo

Eagles stricken after eating flesh of euthanized animal at Nanaimo Regional Landfill

Trudeau says Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades a critical moment for country

First Nations leaders suggest it may be time to peacefully end the blockades

Osoyoos Indian Band seeks support for casino

The 6000 to 7500 square foot casino would be located on Osoyoos Indian Band land.

B.C. budtenders become first private cannabis workers to unionize in Canada

Two of seven Clarity Cannabis storefronts vote to join UFCW 1518 union

Kids exposed to household cleaners as newborns more likely to get asthma: B.C. study

Air fresheners, plug-in deodorizers, antimicrobial hand sanitizers and oven cleaners were the worst culprits

Alleged drunk driver has licence suspended following Kelowna bridge crash

The 31-year-old Calgary man, was issued a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition

Kelowna RCMP seize illicit drugs from Lower Mission home

Four individuals were taken into police custody but were released pending further investigation

Play sparks curiosity through movement in Vernon

Hands and Feet invites theatre newcomers to fall in love with production

Most Read